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Gaughan remembers where he came from and knows where he's going

by Arianne (Girl's Garage)

Brendan Gaughan is not your typical race car driver, in fact there's nothing remotely typical about this Nextel Cup Rookie. His accomplishments on tracks from coast to coast would impress even the most novice race fan. He began competing when he was 15 and started collecting titles almost instantly.

Gaughan was the SNORE series champ three years in a row (1991-1993), 1995 SODA Class 13 Champ, SODA World Champ three years in a row (1996-1998), and the Winston West Series Champion in 2000 and 2001. When he burst onto the Craftsman Truck Series scene in 2002 he earned Rookie of the Year honors. It was no surprise that 2003 would bring even more success for the Las Vegas native. Gaughan enjoyed being named the Most Popular Driver in the same year he had a series-high 6 wins in the Truck series and barely missed the championship title when he wrecked at Homestead.

But all this doesn't compare to the pride he feels when he's standing inside the pit stall of the truck team that he and current crew chief Shane Wilson helped mold into championship caliber. When Brendan Gaughan decided to run in the Nextel Cup Series for the newly-alligned Penske/Jasper Kodak Racing 77 team, he knew he was leaving his Orleans Craftsman Truck team in good hands. Steve Park now turns the wheel for the #62 team and Johnny Allen took over when former crew chief Shane Wilson went with Gaughan. On weekends such as Martinsville, when the Truck and Nextel Series run together, Brendan covets the time he gets to spend with his truck buddies. "Those are my guys, some of them have been with me since I was 15 years old. A lot of them are guys that Shane and I trained for 5 years now and got them to be a world class race team. Those are my guys and I went over there, took them dinner and hung out during the race. My dad sits up on the box and I end up on pit road." Gaughan admits the transition from driver to spectator hasn't been that easy. " I'm not a big fan of pit road. I like being the guy in the race car driving." Wilson and Gaughan laughed about how the situation has taught Gaughan a thing or two. When his crew chief asked if he hit the pit box during a race yet, Brendan had to admit his own guilt. "I used to laugh at him, we'd come back after finishing a race and he used to always bend up the pit box. He'd be banging on it and I'd say dude.... it can't be that bad. But after standing on pit road watching three races now, I've beat the hell out of our pit box in the Orleans team. Now I'm like, I know why you do it! It's a lot different to watch then it is to go out there and do it".

Bringing his friend and Craftsman Truck Series Crew Chief with him to the Kodak Racing team has had major benefits for Gaughan. In a world where Brendan is still learning, Wilson's NASCAR knowledge is invaluable. "I came from a different realm, like when I say a transmission aerates, he actually understands what I mean. If we are looking at something.. and I have Roy, our engineer or Rusty Wallace come over and I say something and they kind of look crossed eyed and I go SHANE, he understands what I mean and can translate it in a way. It's also great to have teammates like Ryan and Rusty come in and talk to you and help you."

After testing at Martinsville earlier in the month, Brendan's team learned a lot about brakes, something his team had struggled with in the past. "We switched to a new pad and it's really helped out in our short track program. I think that's the biggest gain we got from there, we had some engineering stuff (that I don't understand) that they wanted to try and we actually kept with for the race, so we did learn a lot through that test." Brendan explained how important he feels testing has become to his race team. "That's the key right now to most of what this Penske-Jasper team does is.... how well we test mirrors how well we end up racing. Bristol and Texas, we've been following that curve that I said we were going to follow in where we've been getting stronger each week. This week we've qualified 11th at a place that I'm notoriously very poor at, we're pretty excited. I think we've got a pretty good shot at doing something. At Happy Hour we did what we wanted to do. Shane and Roy our engineer, sat up there and had a plan at what they wanted me to do they knew how they wanted the racecar to handle and it was able to do it so we feel pretty good. We'll be able to stick up there hopefully all day and run."

Gaughan did run well all day, he finished 17th at a track he's now learning to like. After an incident on lap 214 the Kodak Racing team quickly worked on a damaged fender and kept Gaughan running well enough to eventually make up the lap he lost. He was the highest qualifying rookie and second highest rookie in race results for the Advance Auto Parts 500.

When asked about his opportunity driving for racing legend Roger Penske in the top racing series in the nation, it's obvious how appreciative Gaughan really is. So far he's handled the transition quite well and admits that the only surprise he's had is that his team hasn't run better early on but believes that time will change that.

Gaughan credits the Raybestos Rookie program for a lot of the media coverage that rookies get within the Nextel Cup Series. "In this series unless you are running up front, you don't get a lot of coverage. It's nice when you get that extra coverage (Raybestos) and I kind of expected that but I was hoping we'd be running a little bit better early. We are going to start getting there now so we don't have to quite rely on their coverage as much as we can rely on the rest of it."

With all that Brendan Gaughan has done in just 28 years, like playing college basketball and football coupled with his impressive motor sport resume, he claims that each accomplishment means a lot but doesn't compare to the other important things in his life. ""My racing accomplishments are great, I mean, what I'm happiest about is the situation the truck team is in. They've got a great driver in Steve Park and a solid program that is running strong and I'm more proud of being an uncle than I am anything I've done in racing. I enjoy this and with any luck I can do this for the next 15-20 years and have a passion for it. My nieces and nephews, the guys over there that took care of me, that got me here, I'm more proud of that, of how they are still running."

The story that best describes Brendan Gaughan has nothing to do with racing, but it is sports related. After hearing that the Las Vegas Gladiators were holding open try-outs, guess who decided he give the Arena Football League a whirl? "I just went out there to prove something to myself. I hadn't done it in a long time. I used to be a stand out football player but when I got hurt I lost my scholarship, still played football in college but when I finally quit, I used to practice with teams and was able to do it so I said, Hey, there's a team in Vegas having open try outs! I've always been one of those stubburn guys who wants to prove himself that he can do something and I hadn't kicked a football in 6 years, walked out there, practiced one afternoon for about 20 minutes and made it to the final cut. Unfortunately on the last round of things, I had already kicked my leg out, pulled my hamstring, and pulled my groin. I tried to do the last round and I lost it in that round. There was 15 guys and I made it to the final 2. I hadn't picked up a ball in years. I still say get me in shape and a week of practice, I could probably make it. I kicked a 50 so I guess it's not that bad."

No Brendan, it's not. That type of determination and guts will get him exactly what he seems to want in the Nextel Cup series; respect and victories. One word to best describe this Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year contender; "refreshing". The series, fans, and media will soon recognize the talent and character within the driver of the 77 Kodak Dodge and until then, no grass will grow beneath Gaughan's feet.

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